|© Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com|
In 2007, a pornographic amateur sex tape featuring Kimberly (Kim) Kardashian with her then-boyfriend Ray J was "leaked."
At the time, Kim Kardashian was an unknown socialite in Los Angeles whose sole claim to fame was that her late father Robert Kardashian had helped successfully defend O.J. Simpson against murder charges.
Kim used the newfound spotlight to sign up a "reality show" called "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" commissioned by E! Entertainment network. The show demonstrated solid ratings, and led to several successful spin-offs.
Within three years of the sex tape's circulation, Kim Kardashian had already begun creating a personal branding success story, venturing into endorsement deals with Carls, Jr. and others.
Additionally, she and her sisters penned an autobiography titled Kardashian Konfidential. The book appeared on the New York Times bestseller's list. By July 2010, Madame Tussaud's had revealed a wax statute of Kardashian in its New York branch.
In 2011, she was married to basketball player Kris Humphries. After only 72 days of marriage, the couple announced their divorce. Kim subsequently married rapper Kanye West. Both marriages and the divorce received unprecedented media coverage.
By 2014, Kardashian's primary retail product lines included a variety of fragrances. However, Forbes reports that expectations are that a digital software application is likely to rake in over $200M by the end of this year. Kim, currently estimated to have a net worth of $45M, is likely to collect at least another $85M in royalties from the application, this year alone.
Kim's younger sisters have followed in their elder sister's footsteps in various ways, and have begun their own claims to fame.
So what can be learned from the meteoric rise and stunning success of the Kardashian branding empire?
First, actually accomplishing something tangible is not necessary to become a household name. Unlike in the past, where a celebrity was typically an accomplished movie star, artist, athlete, astronaut or politician, Kim Kardashian's greatest claim to fame is just being herself. She holds no advanced degrees, doesn't participate in any professional sports and has no particular artistic talents. The lesson is that American mass market culture values glamour, not performance.
Second, Kardashian is a true master of using the media. Most people, upon discovering that a sex tape had been leaked, would have cowered in a corner. Instead, Kardashian exploited the opportunity to promote her own self-image, rather than allow it to be tarnished. Ironically, she ended up settling with Vivid Entertainment, which had commercialized the sex tape, for $5M and ended up posing in Playboy the same year.
Finally, there simply is no shame in blatant celebrity self-promotion. In the past, the prevailing wisdom held that those celebrities who promoted themselves heavily were viewed as greedy and insecure, whereas the truly talented would become famous, in spite of their own humility.
If that was ever sage advice, the Kardashians have certainly taught us that it no longer true.
At last count, Kim had over 22M followers on Twitter, and the same number of followers on Facebook. Pope Francis has 4M.